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Consent to treatment

Before treatment can take place, you are required by law to give your informed consent to ensure your sperm, eggs, embryos and personal information are used in a way that you’re happy with. Find out more about why giving consent to treatment is so important and the different types of consent.

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Why is consent to treatment so important?

Quite simply, because it has serious implications for how your embryos, eggs or sperm are used and, in some cases, who is considered to be a legal parent to your child.

Mistakes with consent to treatment have, for example, led to people having to go to court for permission to use the embryos they created with their deceased partner.

In other cases, embryos, eggs or sperm have been destroyed because proper consent to storage wasn’t given.

Problems with legal parenthood have led to couples having to go to court so that legal parenthood can be declared or, in rare cases, so that the parent without legal parenthood can adopt their child.

It is an essential part of your treatment and together with your clinic you should make sure you fully understand all the issues before giving your consent.

What are the different consent forms I might be asked to sign?

Some of the areas where you may need to give consent include:

  • how long to store your eggs, sperm or embryos
  • the type of treatment you have, including donation
  • who will be the legal parent of a child born if you are using donated eggs, sperm or embryos and you're not married or in a civil partnership with your partner
  • how your personal information can be used.

Your clinic has a responsibility to ensure you completely understand your treatment and the implications of your decisions. They should also offer you counselling before you give your consent.

Consent to fertility treatment and storage of sperm, eggs and/or embryos

You’ll need to consent to your eggs, embryos or sperm being used for your own treatment or the treatment of others. If you freeze them, you’ll also need to make clear how long they should be frozen for and the conditions under which they can be used.

It’s important that before you complete and sign any forms, your clinic has clearly explained to you what your treatment involves and that you are entitled to receive counselling. 

Consent to your clinic sharing your information

Unless it’s a medical emergency, your clinic is not allowed to tell your GP or anyone else about your treatment unless they have your consent to do so. Most patients are happy for their medical history to be discussed with their GP or other healthcare professionals to ensure they get the best possible medical care.

Clinics also need your permission to allow auditors and finance staff to see your records. If you’re having NHS funded treatment, the clinic will also need your permission to discuss details of your treatment and whether it was successful with the funding providers.

By law, some of your information must be shared with us as we’re required to hold details of all the fertility treatments carried out by licensed clinics in the UK. You don’t need to give your consent to this.

Find out more about how we manage your data

Consent to us sharing information for research

Clinics collect patient information, some of which is held securely by us. We’re able to use this data to study trends in fertility treatment, which helps to inform clinics, researchers and the wider public.

Occasionally, researchers in fertility ask us for patient identifying data to help with their research projects but we can only provide that data if you’ve consented for us to do so.

Research using fertility data can help to make treatment safer and more effective. Only research projects that meet strict confidentiality guidelines can use patient identifying data.

Find out more about how we manage your data

How long can I store my eggs, sperm or embryos for use in future treatment?

You can normally only store your eggs, sperm or embryos for up to 10 years. If you have premature infertility or are going to be having medical treatment which could affect your fertility, you may be able to store for up to 55 years. Your clinic should discuss this option with you.

Once your storage period runs out your eggs, sperm or embryos will be discarded (unless you’ve decided to donate them to treatment, research or training), so it’s really important you keep your clinic informed of any change to your contact details so they can let you know when your storage is due to expire.

If you consented to storage for a shorter period of time, you can extend your storage period by completing a new consent form. You don’t have to match the length of storage to any contract for paying for the storage (whether you or the NHS is paying). However, if you don’t pay for storage as agreed, the clinic is within its right to discard you eggs, sperm or embryos as long as they warn you about this.

Making sure your partner is legally recognised as your child’s parent

If you’re having treatment with donated sperm or embryos and you’re not married or in a civil partnership, you and your partner will need to give your written consent to parenthood to ensure that your partner is recognised as the child’s legal parent. If you don’t give consent or there’s an error in the forms, there’s a risk that your partner won’t be recognised as the child’s legal parent.

Find out more about becoming legal parents

Can I withdraw my consent to treatment?

Yes you can, providing your eggs, sperm and embryos haven’t already been used in treatment. Even if you’ve already created an embryo, you can withdraw your consent at any point up until it’s transferred to the womb.

Your partner or donor can also change or withdraw their consent at any time until their eggs, sperm or embryos have been used in treatment. If that happens you wouldn’t be able to continue with treatment, even if the embryos have been jointly created with your eggs or sperm.  

What if I want my eggs, sperm or embryos to be used after my death?

If you want your eggs, sperm or embryos to be used after death, you’ll need to have given all the appropriate consents for this. You should speak to your clinic as this can be quite a complicated area. For example if you’re a man and your wife passes away you’ll need to find a surrogate to carry your baby and your wife will need to have previously consented to this. If you don’t have the right consents then your eggs, sperm or embryos will need to be discarded.

What happens if my partner and I are in dispute about what to do with our embryos?

It can be difficult if you and the person you’ve created embryos with don’t agree about whether or not those embryos should be used. In these cases, where one person wants to use the embryos and the other person doesn’t, you’ll have a one year ‘cooling off period’ where both parties can think through all the issues and come to a final decision. Your clinic should support you both in reaching a resolution.

Who can I talk to if I have questions about consent?

Your clinic should give you all the consent forms relevant to your situation and should help you to complete them. Part of this process is giving you clear information about your treatment and offering you the chance to have professional counselling. If you have any questions about consent you should speak to your clinic.

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Review date: 17 September 2021

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